The value of researching workplace behaviors
“I’m really interested in how the economy affects behaviors and attitudes."
Bianchi was just a few years out of graduate school at Columbia (she earned her PhD in Management in 2012) when the teaching awards started pouring in: 40 Best Business School Professors Under 40, Poets & Quants, 2015, and Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, 2016 (Emory’s highest teaching honor), just to name two.
In addition, she’s received numerous awards and accolades for her research, which examines how the economy affects us psychologically more than we think. Recent awards include the Rising Star Early Career Award, Association for Psychological Science, 2016, and Best Published Paper in Organization & Management Theory, AOM, 2014.
What makes Bianchi particularly unique is her eagerness to connect with “lifelong learners” through frequent media talks, such as TEDx talks, “How Money Affects Social Ties,” NPR radio, “Higher-Earning Households Tend to Spend More Time Alone,” and Marketplace, “How the Recession Shaped a More Humble Generation.”
“I’m really interested in how the economy affects behaviors and attitudes. It started with the Great Recession,” Bianchi said. “It seemed to affect us in so many ways and yet researchers had focused almost entirely on the financial repercussions of recessions. I was interested in the psychological effects.” Bianchi’s research suggests that recessions can have surprisingly positive consequences on individual behavior.
During downturns, people become more interdependent and other-focused, as well as more ethical and cautious. But her work points to some dark implications of recessions as well. She finds that during bad economic times, discrimination against African-Americans increases.
"I wanted to study something with real-world implications.”
After growing up in Atlanta, Bianchi went to college at Harvard for social psychology and African-American studies. “I was interested in race, and in inequality,” she recalled. “Both fields took a different approach to understanding these topics.” Her favorite class? Introduction to Social Psychology.
“The class named and identified so many things I had noticed in the world, but had not thought about in an organized or structured way. I couldn’t believe people got to study these things for a living,” she added. Once Bianchi entered the workplace first as an advocate for the homeless and later as a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, she became fascinated by how people behaved at work.
“I saw many seemingly irrational workplace behaviors.” Noted Bianchi, “Around that time I first heard of the field of organizational behavior, which draws on insights from social psychology to help make sense of behavior at work. It offered a scientific way to understand all the puzzling things I was seeing in the working world.”
This solidified Bianchi’s interest in business research, and spurred her to attend graduate business school at Columbia, with a focus on management. “I had resisted academia earlier in my career because I was worried about doing research that was too removed from everyday life. I wanted to study something with real-world implications.”
“[Students] help me think about things differently ... and still make comments that cause me to think of an issue in a way I never had before.”
That focus on real-world situations has become a foundation of Bianchi’s teaching as well. “What I really like about her class is the real-life applicability,” said Dilsher Dhupia 19BBA, a former student and current TA, who said Bianchi’s classes steered his career path toward strategic and management consulting. “I try to make it interactive, fun and personable, with real-life examples,” Bianchi noted.
In one class experience, Dhupia recalls playing a card game where “we were not allowed to talk and the goal was to show how working amongst cultures can be confusing to navigate.” In another, the class separated into three teams and had to negotiate a deal to help them understand power hierarchies at work and how various groups perceive them.
Bianchi said Goizueta students keep her on her toes by asking thought-provoking questions. “They help me think about things differently. Even if I have taught a class a dozen times, students still make comments that cause me to think of an issue in a way I never had before.”
Bianchi takes a personal interest in her students’ success, noted Libby Egnor, Goizueta’s assistant dean and academic advisor for the BBA Program. “Emily once had a student who was having severe mental health issues,” she recalled. “She was so obviously moved by his struggles, that her willingness to be supportive and help him clearly came from a profoundly human and compassionate place,” Egnor said.
As a mom of three ranging in age from nine years to 10 months, Bianchi says her family has always been a part of her academic career. “Having young kids helps keep things in perspective. It also helps me use my time more efficiently.”
When asked about the predominance of male professors in business schools, Bianchi feels that things are improving. “There are more female professors than when I was starting out. I think the world is moving in the right direction.”